Born Robert Frederick John Cann, near Spreyton, Devon, on 1st August 1916, into a family of singers, musicians and step dancers. He lived all his life on the edge of Dartmoor, east of Okehampton in the villages of South Zeal and South Tawton. He started playing the melodeon at the age of three, and between the wars he cycled all over the local district playing for dances. His repertoire included the older barn dances and hornpipes, but also dances such as the Waltz Cotillion, the Lancers and the more modern foxtrot. Bob learned tunes from members of his own family - as evidenced by the large number of tunes in his repertoire with titles such as Uncle George’s, Uncle Jim’s and Family Jig. He also had tunes from gypsies who visited the area, from other local musicians, from records by Jimmy Shand, and not a few learned from folk revivalists.
Bob was 'discovered' by the folk dance and song revival in the late 1940s, and he did a lot of work for the English Folk Dance and Song Society in the south west of England. The folk music establishment did not in Bob's eyes promote the sort of village dances that the local people on Dartmoor could associate with. However, he played for EFDSS dances, and in 1957 took first prize in a nationwide contest for solo folk instrumentalists in London.
Bob worked in farming all his life, until the mid-1970s, when he retired owing to ill health. Thereafter he had more time to devote to music on a national stage. After recording the West Country Melodeon LP for Topic Records in 1975 he toured with a band of folk-rock musicians led by Ashley Hutchings, and played on the latter's LP "Kicking Up the Sawdust". However he was always most at home calling and playing for dances in and around Dartmoor with his own Dartmoor Pixie Band, a band which came to include Bob's grandson Mark Bazeley on concertina and melodeon.
Bob was a tireless champion of Dartmoor traditions and crafts, including the step-dancing and broom dancing which he taught, and he founded the Dartmoor Folk Festival.
Bob Cann was awarded the English Folk Dance and Song Society's Gold Badge in 1981, and received a BEM in the 1989 New Year Honours list, for services to local and national folk music. He died on 25th May 1990.
- Rig-A-Jig-Jig. Dance Music Of The South Of England. Topic Records – TSCD659 Voice Of The People. – Volume 9. 1998
- Five Generations: the music & songs of a Dartmoor family, Bob Cann & Mark Bazeley. Veteran VT110